Friday will be the 14th anniversary of 9/11, when over 3,000 people killed in a few minutes. In the last few years we have seen quite a number of these terrible disasters, where thousands of people are killed in a few seconds. The one that stands out most in my mind is the tsunami in Indonesia in 2004, where over 25,000 people were killed; whole families wiped out in an instant. These things are very frightening and we hope and pray that they won’t come to our doorstep. However, one good thing that comes from them is that they make people think. They make us ask some of the most fundamental questions: ‘What is my life about? Why am I here? What happens when I die? Does anything happen when I die?’ Depending on how I answer these questions makes a big difference as to how I live this life.
If death is the final end for us, the extinction of our existence, then it is surely the greatest disaster imaginable and there is no way we can be consoled when we lose someone. However, if death is simply the end of a short life here on earth, which is a kind of school of learning to love and serve, and is then (hopefully) the beginning of an eternal life of happiness with God with the people we love, in a place where we will no longer suffer or have to say painful goodbyes, then it is very different. If there is a place that we call heaven, then these disasters like 9/11, the tsunami, the hurricanes and everything else, while they are terrible events, they just mean that those who have died have gone to the same place that we hope to go, but they have gone there much sooner than we were expecting. If they really have gone to this place called heaven, then it puts a very different perspective on things. If the life they are now living is much better than this one, and we believe this is true because God has taught us this, then we needn’t be sorry for them because they didn’t get to live this life for longer. Personally I would much prefer to be in heaven. The hardest part is for those of us left behind, because we can’t see any further than death. We are suddenly cut off from the ones we love and it causes us great loneliness and pain. We believe and hope, yes, but because we don’t know for sure it causes us great distress, as you know.
So why do we believe that there is a heaven? Mainly because God has taught us this and has taught us that this life is merely a preparation for it. If we believe that, and I certainly do, then it will make a big difference as to how we live this life. If there is nothing after this life, then you might as well grab all you can now, so to speak. But if there is something much better, as we believe, then it is well worth making sacrifices for it and not living in a totally selfish way.
Jesus spent most of his ministry teaching the people about the Kingdom of God, which begins here, but is mostly experienced in the next life. The miracles he worked were signs of who He was, but they were not his main mission. Why would Jesus bother doing this if it wasn’t true? Why would He go through such a terrible death for us if there was nothing after?
Over the last century Our Lady has appeared in many parts of the world, and one of the reasons is to remind us that heaven is real and that it is worth living this life as well as we can, because there are consequences to how we live.
When people die it is natural that we mourn for them, but if we want to show them that we love them, then the best thing we can do is to pray for them. Today many people will go to a funeral, but not that many of them believe in praying for the person who has died. Our prayers for them are of much more value than our tears.When someone dies we inevitably find ourselves saying, ‘Well at least they are in heaven now.’ The reality is that they are probably not there straight away, because very few people are so close to God when they die that they are able to come into the direct presence of God. It would simply be too much for us. So we go through what we call Purgatory, a purification, a time of getting ready for heaven, or adjusting to the light, if you like. Imagine coming to a place where the light was a hundred times brighter than the sun. We wouldn’t be able for it straight away, so we have to spend a while getting used to this more intense light, if you like, and also atoning for, or making up for, what we have done wrong that we have not repented for. Purgatory is a kind of purification. This life is a kind of purification too, but not as intense.
What about the idea of hell? Is that just a medieval fairy tale to scare us? It might sound strange but it makes a lot of sense that hell is real, for the simple reason that we have free choice. We can choose to reject God if we wish. If God is all that is good, beautiful, loving, perfect, etc., then hell is the loss of all this: so hell is isolation, darkness, pain, separation, etc.
God has created us for happiness, for a life with him and united again with the people we love and God who is all powerful, will do everything possible to get us there. So if we are open to God, even in the smallest way, we have nothing to worry about. We needn’t be afraid either for those we love if we pray for them, because God is just as concerned about them as we are, and will do everything to help them.
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. Trust in God still, and trust in me.’